Lynne Charles: Well, I was born in New York and my training comes from New York. I started in a small ballet school in Queens and then I got a scholarship and I went to what used to be called the Harkness House for Ballet Arts under the direction of Rebekah Harkness. It was amazing training because we had teachers like Ben Stevenson, David Howard, and a lot of teachers from the Royal Ballet. We even had Luigi, the famous jazz teacher, working in that same building as the Harkness Ballet.
After that, I went to the School of American Ballet’s summer programs and my main training was at the ABT School. I was actually the first member chosen for the original ABT Junior Company under the direction of Richard Englund and Gage Bush.
Then I went off to have an incredible career with Hamburg Ballet, but also many more. I worked with some incredible choreographers. For me, working with a choreographer was more interesting than being in a normal repertory company.
My first company was Balanchine’s second company, so I got to work with George Balanchine. I then worked with Maurice Béjart, Roland Petit, and some smaller choreographers. My life was really spent working with people who created and this, for me, was very interesting.
Lynne: Well, I think there has been a shift in dancing. With the invention of social media platforms, the increase in competitions, and ballet becoming part of television and cinema, it’s become a lot more like entertainment and a lot less like pure art. This is part of the evolution of everything; I think it’s totally normal.
I don’t like to say “back in my day,” but I think the standards were different. What was important was different. There was more of a sense of being expressive with your body. It was about using your limbs, your hands, your neck, your feet. They were all part of your expression. It was never about how many pirouettes you did or how high you jumped or how high your legs were. It was about how you use the body that you have to speak. And, of course, speaking with your feet was something that fascinated me.
When I became a professor at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, I started working with contemporary dancers. I realized that they had a totally different approach to dance. I was coming in contact with large amounts of contemporary choreography for the first time and was working with Bridget Breiner, who also brought a lot of new contemporary choreographers.
I saw it from the time of William Forsythe, the challenges dancers faced on pointe. Physically being challenged in a way that they weren’t before. I found that a normal pointe class was very perpendicular. It was just up and down, up and down. And it didn’t involve the sixth position. Watching contemporary choreography, the girl doesn’t just go up on pointe. She bends and goes over onto her knees. You can’t practice this by just doing class. I started working on exercises at the Folkwang University with dancers there, then started trying them on ballet dancers, and then spoke with doctors. I spoke a lot with Dr. Benita Kuni, an orthopedic surgeon who used to be a dancer.
It turns out that there has been a serious increase in foot injuries. When I talked to dancers, they said that with busy rehearsal schedules, they don’t have time to warm up their feet. And now the demands of different repertoire changed the demands on the dancers. I also came into contact with women who had babies and needed to come back. It became clear that there was a need for a better way to work on pointe.
It’s not a substitute for pointe class. It’s like pilates or Gyrotonics or yoga. These somatic practices helped evolve ballet training because they’ve shown us muscles can be trained in more mindful ways so that dancers are fitter, recover faster, and stay healthier for longer. I realized that 4Pointe could be the same. It could be a somatic method that works alongside a normal pointe class. You build up a certain set of exercises and a mindset as a way of working at the barre so that when you go to the center or rehearsal, your body’s totally ready.
I’ve talked to professional dancers, like Sara Mearns, who says “I do 10 minutes of your exercises and I’m ready to go for the day.” That’s what it is meant to do: to go along with class. It’s never meant to replace dancing because, in the end, all of this somatic cross-training we’re doing is so we can dance. It’s not meant to replace, it is a tool.
If you have someone returning from an injury and they can only work at the barre, these exercises will definitely bring that dancer back. If a pregnant mother is doing rehab or you’re on tour and don’t have full classes, 4Pointe is a tool to better prepare for when you do get into class. I think we need to better prepare dancers so that once they get in the center, they can do everything properly and for a long period of time.
I think the most difficult level to teach is the beginner level because the beginning level sets the building stones for everything else. The alignment, the placement of the pelvis, the back, making sure the student stands with long toes. It’s also the mindset. The next generation of teachers has to understand that we are in a new era and we have to learn how to teach dancers into the future. We can’t get stuck. We have our principles, we have our syllabi, we have our methods, but we have to have an open mindset. 4Pointe is also about understanding that and understanding that we don’t know everything. No teacher knows all.
Lynne: We have to be inclusive. Ballet has to be more inclusive. Well, everything has to be more inclusive. This syllabus was built for this; it functions in an inclusive society. You can take the principles of this syllabus and look at the dancer in front of you and find a way. It takes more time, but you have to find a way to transmit the information so that each dancer has the same chance to learn and improve as the next one. Otherwise, we’re not moving forward.
Lynne: I think there are many benefits to teaching men. I think one might get worried when they think “It’s already hard enough for girls.” If they have to start competing against men, it’s going to be difficult. But, as a teacher, you have to look at the student that’s in front of you. If it’s a boy, if it’s a girl if it’s whoever, your job is to teach them.
My dream is to create a society, a teacher society. I find there aren’t enough teachers today getting together to talk about what they’re doing, to share information, and to evolve together. I would love it if 4Pointe could be that. Not only a certification, not only a mindset but a group of teachers who will go into the future and teach this mindful, open, inclusive way of working with a new generation of students. With 4Pointe, I don’t want to go for masses of teachers because I would like to be able to continue to mentor them. Even when they go on their way, I would like them to be able to feel that they are constantly learning and maybe even bringing something back to 4Pointe.
This is what it’s about. It’s about sharing. We could do a lot more if we shared. I know they have this ballet director’s conference once or twice a year and I think it is doing a lot of good from what I’ve heard. I would really love to do that with 4Pointe. I made the 4Pointe website portal where teachers can go and meet online. Especially now with Zoom, there are so many possibilities. Maybe then we can do it in person. We all get together in a nice hotel and talk about what has evolved, and what has developed, and see how we can bring pointe work into the future.
Pointe work will always be essential. There is no way around it. In modern, we still use it. Maybe men will use it. I think it’s here forever.
Lynne: The whole point of 4Pointe is that it’s goal-oriented and muscle-oriented. You isolate specific muscles. The pelvis becomes the main focus after having a baby, so 4Pointe helps realign and find your center again. It’s the same for injury and the same for beginners. It’s about the alignment of the spine, and the hips, and work turned in and out.
Like Pilates, it’s about physical sensations and rhythms. 4Pointe can be built and structured to fit the needs of every dancer. So even if I have six students, they each have a different barre. I don’t do the same thing for everyone. You see what your student needs and build around them. You have a method, but it is a method you build around individuals.
Lynne: I think if it is a professional school like San Francisco Ballet School or Boston Ballet School if you start at the beginner level, the first level, I would only do 4Pointe. At least for the first three months to ensure that children who are going up on pointe for the first time really know what they are doing and are standing properly. Then I would move to maybe twice a week and once a week doing stuff in the center. For intermediate and advanced levels, I’d still recommend twice a week, even as they’re adding more things to their training, like variations.
If it’s a recreational ballet school, for beginners I would do it once a week and if it’s intermediate or advanced and they do pointe twice a week, I’d say just once a week as well. I think you need to have the feeling of dancing around and moving not just barre work.
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